Norms and standardisation in relation to cities – meeting in Strasbourg on July 7th
During the last meeting of the URBAN Intregroup, which took place in Strasbourg on 7 July, Mr Hilmar von Lojewski from the German Association of Cities, raised the issue of norms and standardisation in relation to cities.
In the introduction, he shortly explained what is a standard and what does standardisation mean. He stressed at the same time that standardisation is not only a technical issue but political as well. Moreover, standards attempt to be compulsory. Example of standard “sustainable development in communities” and standards on Smart Cities showed that very often European indicators such as The Reference Framework for Sustainable Cities (RFSC) or global indicators like those linked to Sustainable Development Goals are not taken into account. During the discussion it has been mentioned that differentiation between standards for products and services is needed as soon as standards have impact on public budget.
In conclusion, participants agreed that careful monitoring of standardisation processes in relation to cities is needed and standards should be understood from the political perspective. MEPs stressed that in the near future, it will be necessary to check the indicators for example (Which kind of indicators do we use? Are they European? Do they take into account SDGs?), while the EC will present a performance based budget.
HABITAT III – discussion about the role of European local and regional authorities
Each national delegation has to include a local or regional government representative during Habitat III’s final conference in Quito this autumn. Together, the representatives of the future Slovak presidency, the European Parliament and the Commission have aligned with CEMR and PLATFORMA’s position, presented during the seminar co-organised with the URBAN intergroup on 21 June at the European Parliament.
While the seminar was taking place, preparations were already under way for the final conference in Quito (Ecuador), where the new Global Urban Agenda should be adopted. The European Commission representative (DG REGIO) Judit Torokne Rozsa supported the idea of having a local government representative in each national delegation. This idea was strongly endorsed by the Member of the European Parliament (MEP) and President of the URBAN intergroup Jan Olbrycht, who stated:”Let’s fight together for a greater role for local governments.” “We do not want one level to decide for everyone. Local and regional governments have to show the way”, confirmed Elena Szolgayová, representing the future Slovak presidency of the Council of the EU (SKLEU2016). “It is our ambition to support you”. As such, the Deputy Mayor of Cologne, Andreas Wolter, stated: “The European Union needs to support the demands of the Global Taskforce for local and regional governments (GTF) for the recognition of a special status for local governments within the governing bodies of the United Nations and UN Habitat.
The Quito conference is a good thing – but what comes next?
“The Quito conference will not be limited to a simple approval of the agreement by states”, explained the representative of Habitat III, Tobias Kettner. “If it’s true that it will lay the foundations for a new Global Urban Agenda, Quito will also be the opportunity to focus on the action and implementation of the Agenda.” To which CEMR Secretary General, Frédéric Vallier, replied: “With only a few months to go before the conference, our concerns are not only to know who will be responsible for what, but to see how national governments, towns, cities and civil society can work together once the agreement is signed.”
The representative from the NGO Habitat for Humanity, Deepali Sood, pointed out the importance of including citizens and stressed the need to assess the results throughout the process.
Speaking from the floor, MEP Ernest Maragall, member of the URBAN Intergroup, expressed his fears that the agreement might be “kidnapped by national governments”. These words were echoed by another member of the Intergroup MEP Joachim Zeller, who stated: “We do not need yet another agreement written by national governments. The risk we run is that that the whole point of the agreement could be lost; it’s an agreement that concerns urban life, which means towns and cities.”
The director of PLATFORMA, Patrizio Fiorilli, ended the seminar by putting forward several proposals included in PLATFORMA and CEMR’s joint declaration. The main proposals are the following:
- Giving a seat to local and regional governments at the UN process negotiations table;
- Guaranteeing a minimum of at least 20% of national resources to local government;
- Responding to the specific concerns of cities of all sizes and functional areas;
- Supporting co-operation among cities and regions through peer-to-peer capacity building projects and exchange of good practices, both within and outside of Europe;
- Designing the new Urban Agenda in close cooperation with local authorities and constituting a tool for self-assessment on a voluntary basis.
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All eyes are now turned to national governments, as they will be the ones to decide on the final agreement.
Right to the City to older persons – meeting in Strasbourg on May 12th
The Joint meeting of the URBAN Intergroup and the Intergroup on Active Ageing and Intergenerational Solidarity took place on Thursday May 12th at the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
The main point of the meeting was the discussion on how to apply the Right to the City to older persons and seizing the opportunity of the EU Urban Agenda. Ms Julia Wadoux, policy and project coordinator for Health, New Technologies and Accessibility at AGE Platform Europe presented a broad picture of ageing in the EU, especially in the context of urbanisation. It has been stressed that according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the adaptation of physical and social environments to the needs of the ageing population empowers people to age in better physical and mental health. It also promotes their social inclusion and active participation as well as helps them maintain their autonomy and a good quality of life. Moreover, WHO’s “8 areas of age-friendly environments in city” was quickly presented. During the presentation, the problem of age stereotypes and discrimination of old people in society was linked to the right to the city to older persons. The need for solidarity between generations and monitoring ageing has been stressed.
During the discussion, participants agreed that the EU Urban Agenda is a key opportunity for cities to design their age-friendly social and physical environments. MEPs underlined that ageing should be horizontally presented in different partnerships. However, it seems that actually the problem of mobility is central, not only in urban but especially in rural areas. Access to transport would allow older people social inclusion, improve health care, etc.
In conclusions, participants agreed that, in the short term, European and national policies could help to resolve some problems for older people leaving not only in cities. Moreover, long term investments are needed: for example pro-nativity policies to try to stop the consequences of ageing European pollution.
Urban dimension of financial instruments – meeting in Strasbourg on April 14th
Frank Lee, Head of Financial Instruments Advisory Division from the European Investment Bank, made the presentation “What next after JESSICA? The urban dimension of financial instruments in 2014-2020“. At the beginning of the meeting some reasons of using FI was underlined which are: a more efficient use of public sector resources, especially for revenue generation or cost saving projects; good leverage potential, also through recycling of funds; added financial discipline into the project; possibility of combining them with technical support and/or capital grants to overcome market barriers. In reference to the last point, it has been stressed that particularly in the urban environment there is a need to combine grants with FI and the balance between both is very important.
During the presentation JESSICA initiative was summed up as well as different urban models of using FI in the 2007-2013 financial perspective. Lithuanian case study was highlighted in which combination of loans and grants let renovate multi-apartment buildings. Moreover, Northwest England case study showed how 16 local authorities run Urban Development Fund which provides debt funding for urban regeneration projects. During the debate, MEPs agreed that the FI must be tailored into the local needs. In conclusion, Jan Olbrycht, President of the URBAN Intergroup, underlined that ex-ante conditionality is the way to choose best instrument for concrete challenge and that in general there is a growing debate about the financial instruments inside the cohesion policy.
Event on intergartion of refugees in European cities
The URBAN Intergroup jointly with the European Investment Bank (EIB) organised a conference “How Europe’s towns and cities can address current refugee crises?” The event took place on Wednesday April 6th in Brussels’ EIB Office.
In the welcoming speech, Mr Mikołaj Dowgielewicz, Permanent Representative of the EIB to the EU, stressed that the EIB’s aim is to trying to help Members States and cities to handle in the most appropriate way investments needed to respond the unprecedented refugee’s crisis. Jan Olbrycht, President of the URBAN Intergroup, explained that “we need to reflect about the current situation EU cities are facing, but also about the evolution of the whole migration process in the future. Moreover, we should think about the instruments to solve immediately the most urgent problems, and what should be changed in the functioning of the cities.”
The first session of the event focused on the integration of refugees from the EU institutions’ perspective. Representatives of the DG Migration and Home Affairs and of the DG Regional and Urban Policy from the European Commission presented the available instruments to tackle the crisis and possibilities to use them. It has been underlined that from the beginning of the refugee’s crisis, European cities showed great generosity to welcome migrants.
The aim of the second session was to present the issue of refugee’s integration from the European towns and cities perspective. Lambert van Nistelrooij, Vice-president of the URBAN Intergroup, who moderated this part of the seminar, stressed that mayor’s are at the political lead in hosting refugees. CEMR representative drew attention to the fact that the EU institutions and Members States need coordination to better distribute refugees in the whole territory, between big but also small and medium size European cities. EUROCITIES representative presented the main points of its recent report on refugees’ perception and their integration in cities, as well as EUROCITIES statement on asylum in cities. At the end of the meeting, the representative of the city of Amsterdam presented the (issue of the) inclusion of migrants and refugees in the EU Urban Agenda partnership.
In conclusion, Jan Olbrycht noticed that “we are now observing just the beginning of a long-term migration process in the European Union”. The European institutions must therefore start the rethinking of its statistics and reviewing its policies for the future.